On the whole, is the portrayal of Asian men in American media “desexualized and emasculated”?
That’s the stinging accusation made by actor and self-professed “basketball junkie” Jake Choi in a fascinating interview with Salon published this week.
Choi–who plays a gay stylist (the romantic lead) in the upcoming summer rom-com Front Cover–spends much of the lengthy interview lamenting the dearth of Asian roles for actors, and the overall lack of Asian American representation in entertainment. (It’s a concern echoed in recent social media campaigns like the #whitewashedout and #starringJohnCho hashtags, and the in-depth New York Times feature on Asian-American invisibility.)
The actor–who in 2013 apologized for facetiously using the term “No Homo” by saying “I’m the most gay friendliest straisian there is”–has a number of incisive insights into the current state of Asian representation.
Here’s Choi on the conspicuous lack of Asian male sex symbols:
Asian woman can be with a white man because you’re not compromising white male sexuality and dominance and perception and straight white male insecurity. Asian men are emasculated. Ads do a better job than films to portray sexy Asians. When Jet Li and Aaliyah made “Romeo Must Die” they shot a kissing scene, but it was cut from the film. An Asian man kissing a woman is never shown, which is the emasculation.
On the difficultly in getting lead male roles because of his ethnicity:
I feel like studios or networks or producers will ask the casting offices, put “open ethnicity” for the breakdown so they don’t get criticized. It may be a SAG-AFTRA law. They bring in ethnic and non-ethnic actors they know, but once they do that, they cast it straight white, but ethnics get seen. My white friends who are actors say that I’m lucky that I got the audition, but I say, “Look who got the role!”
On how the media portrays Asians (in the rare instances that it does):
We are all human beings. It’s not like it won’t serve the story if the characters are not Caucasian. Asians are just as human and three-dimensional as everyone else. Mass media is not reflecting that. Asian men are not seen having a girlfriend or a boyfriend, but in real life you see Asians with black, white, Latino partners. The media portrays it in another way, and it changes perception of and for Asians and non-Asians. There are people who are conscious of it, but others are conditioned by it.
What do you think of Choi’s commentary? How can studious improve the amount of roles–and the quality of representation–for Asian-Americans? Weigh in in the comments below…